She Ain't Heavy
By Stephanie Goddard Davidson
I remember the turning point clearly. I was in the eighth grade, standing outside of the cafeteria in my lime green polyester skirt, when I discovered something that has been a constant and unwelcome companion ever since: a little roll of fat below the elastic waistband where there once was only flatness. I had recently started to feed myself chips and sodas as after school snacks, but I just knew my body would stay as trim as it always had. Based on the soft evidence before me, my body had no plans to abandon natural laws and cooperate with my new eating regime.
It became more than just speculation at that moment, that my body did indeed have a mind of its own. I'd had hints in the past, but I figured it was just slow to catch up. For instance, it didn't grow boobs when I wanted it to (nor were they as big as I would have liked, once they did show up). My period didn't start in the 4th grade, as I had fervently wished on the first star on many nights; it showed up in the 6th grade instead. While my body did bend and jump and run well enough to stay in shape for dance recitals, and make the cheerleading squad, the bump in my nose was surely keeping the boys away---and did I have to be so tall (5'3") for the school dance?
Now at almost 45, I find myself still in this battle with "my" body. Why can't it stay thin without exercise and eating right (whatever that means)? And am I going to have to have my flaws surgically altered at some point? I mean, the hundreds of dollars spent on products wasn't doing all that much. And my hair! Is it right for my features and couldn't it be easier to style in the morning? Is it too aging or does it make me look like I'm trying too hard to look young (which is exactly what I'm up to)?
Ugh. My body, as usual, just isn't cooperating. Admittedly, the damn thing is still here even with my decades-long smoking addiction (which is on its way out -again). And I'll also be the first to show surprise that for some reason, lately, I just don't have an interest in alcohol (and thank God, because that one definitely got in my way). Maybe that has to do with the long-overdo divorce? Hmmm. Maybe the small seed being planted lately in the media---where having a body that doesn't resemble a supermodel's is becoming something to tolerate---has taken root?
Intellectually, I get those Dove commercials with the plus-size models and I absolutely can't wait for the next episode of Carson K's 'How to Look Good Naked.' I get that we are all "supposed" to (is that an order?) love our bodies. You know, love yourself. Self-love. The "L" word. Well, I can say for certain that I don't LOVE my body despite its ability to put up with all sorts of interference and the fact that it actually does look a little better than the gals selling Dove.
All these years later, my body is still here--and still has a mind of its own--and that has to mean something, doesn't it? What I've done and thought and said up to now hasn't worked. So what will? My body is clearly not going anywhere and is definitely not going to defy gravity or physics in this lifetime. So now what?
What I know from years of therapy, journaling and Oprah, is that this goal of weight loss is NOT a complete-and-total-change-forever goal. There are two reasons that this goal is likely to be temporary once again:
1. Being skinny takes me out of what I lovingly call, the Girl's Club. By that I mean, I don't get to bitch about my body and its lack of desirability with my friends and female coworkers when I look, well, desirable.
2. The second reason this goal may be almost met and then abandoned, is that it makes me a candidate for sex. Eeek. While I am a big fan, it comes with a lot of complications. Hangers-on or a broken heart and plus I'm a MOM and we aren't sexy just in case you were wondering. I mean I'm actually gonna need the 15 lb. cushion to send that message. Right?
So back I go to eating right and exercising and sleeping more than 8 hours a night and taking vitamins. I'm on my way to looking good---once again. I am doing the bodywork I need to do to accomplish this goal, that I have accomplished and unaccomplished many times. This goal is all I think about, even now, while that little voice in the back of my head is saying, "Until the next time that you stop working out or start eating whatever you want or..." I know it. My body knows it. And frankly anyone that's been paying attention to my version of chitchat knows it. So what's different today?
Something shifted this morning. Something really important just kind of happened to me mentally. I'm not sure how, but I have a feeling as to why. I have been reading and listening to tapes and taking seminars for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which is that it's my job. And with these new pieces of information and encouragement, I have recently declared (for possibly the 30th time in my life) that I will, once again, lose 15 pounds and look great soon. The Epiphany-- with a capital "E"-- that you've all been waiting/reading for is: why don't you relate to your body the way it has related to you and be your body's friend for a change?
This isn't the same thing, in my mind, as LOVING my body. That's not realistic for me. But my body has actually been pretty cool to me, considering the way I've been treating her. And she is a 'her', by the way. She sits quietly in the background while I take her for these roller coaster rides when I'm bored or angry or sad or lonely. The term "roller coaster ride" is my shorthand for binge eating or drinking or sex with just anyone. It's been my way of dealing with the outside world. My reasoning is to make myself/her incoherent on the inside and then the outside won't feel so bad. It hasn't worked yet, but when it does, I'll let you know. And in the meantime? She brushes herself off after each episode and gets up the next morning and keeps going.
I look down today and see my tired, slightly lumpy body as, quite possibly, the most remarkable creature I can think of-a true friend. This friend has hung in there despite my attempts to stop hanging out with her. She has really come through, even though she hasn't been given any encouragement from me to stay consistent and trustworthy. Admittedly, she is not very energetic and feels a little sad and there is that literal pain in my/her neck, but all and all, she's trying. She gets it done. Day after day.
If I really was carting around a friend at all times, how would I treat her, I wonder? Would I let her only sleep a little and not as much she needs? Would I feed her whatever's easiest? Would I let her sit all day on an uncomfortable chair while she works? Would I insist she wear shoes that hurt her feet so that she looks good to others?
Would I point out how puffy her eyes are and how her hair is doing that weird flippy thing on one side again? Would I compare her to the celebrities in People magazine and complain to her that she doesn't measure up? Would I tell a friend to skip some of her pap smears and mammograms because they are inconvenient and might show something she doesn't want to see anyway?
And of course my answer is no. I might share some things eventually and delicately, but I wouldn't blame her for these things. I'd point them out as possible improvements, if she is so inclined. And what isn't in my "friend's" power to fix? Then I would accept those things as part of who she is and like her anyway. Maybe even love her, if that's in the cards, as I get to know her again for the first time in thirty-plus years.
I am holding the idea of body-as-friend in my mind today. As I move throughout today (thanks to her) I will continue to focus my mind back to this bizarre, yet exciting, realization---my body is not my enemy and is quite possibly my friend. While I haven't been much of a participant in this friendship, she has, and I owe her big time. I may slip back into old habits, but I have the intention, at least for today, of making a new habit---treating my body like the lifelong friend she is.
She really has been a great one. I only hope I still deserve her.
____________________________________________________________________ Stephanie Goddard (Davidson) is considered a subject matter expert in workplace communications and specializes in leadership and interpersonal skills training.
Frequently appearing as a guest on radio programs and published in numerous articles on workplace communications, Stephanie is also a nationally certified trainer for Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People; DDI programs; Ridge's People Skills for Managers and Individual Contributors; Myers-Briggs Type Indicator; FranklinCovey's Project Management and master certified in Achieve Global's Management Programs; as well as an instructor with the American Management Association.